“Marley and Me” has become a literary phenomenon, a juggernaut of a best-selling book. And it’s an amazingly simple story, a true-life account of one man’s life with an otherwise unremarkable, dopey, mischievous, wonderful dog named Marley. In the book, when the time comes for Marley to die, the author’s heart is broken.
Thumper is our Marley.
It’s hard to explain the love affair we Americans have with our pets. Me, I’m a dog person. It’s not that I find fault with cat lovers, it’s just that there’s nothing like my happy, tail-wagging dog waiting for me at the front door when I come home from work after a rough day at the office to remind me of the meaning of “unconditional love.”
Thumper is a 15 year-old Cocker Spaniel/Labrador mix. I rescued the tiny, shivering little black ball of fur from an animal shelter in Greenville, South Carolina back in 1991. He’s actually the third Thumper in my life: I grew up with Thumper the First and Thumper the Second, two black cockers that filled my childhood with joy and companionship during the years that my father, who died when I was 11, was sick and in and out of hospitals. Being the only child at home, my dog was my buddy, the one thing I could always count on to make me smile in an often difficult childhood.
Thankfully, I never had to deal with the deaths of Thumper One or Thumper Two. When the first Thumper died, I was too young to remember how my Mom and Dad handled it. And the second Thumper ran away from home. While that was traumatic, I fantasized that some rich family with a mansion and a huge backyard for him to play in found him and took him in.
After I grew up and started a family of my own, I knew I wanted my children to experience the joy of a dog, too. Of course, naming him Thumper was probably a fairly obvious hint that I was ready, too.
Like every dog, Thumper has a distinct and unique personality. He never objects to a good belly rub, and just like his distant cousins from years past, always “thump-thump-thumps” his leg while getting his tummy scratched. He has been there through good times and bad. He’s been a part of our sons’ milestones, like high school proms or graduations. He dutifully moved with us from South Carolina to upstate New York, on to New York City and eventually to Dallas. He lets me hold him when I’m upset, or lays his head on my lap when I’m reading the paper, or just sleeps in front of the fireplace while we’re watching TV, content to be safe and sound with the family that loves him.